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Third Secretof Fatima: No Apocalypse Now

VATICAN CITY, June 26 (Reuters) - The Vatican published the "Third Secretof Fatima" on Monday and assured the faithful it referred to a violent pastrather than an apocalyptic future.

The gist of the secret -- said tohave been told by the Madonna to three Portuguese shepherd children in 1917 --predicted communism's persecution of Christianity in the 20th century andforetold the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul, the Vatican says.

But mostly, Vatican officialssaid, it pointed to the hope of a brighter future forged by the sufferings ofthe past.

"It encourages us by showingthat even in a world which was half destroyed there is a greater force and deathdoes not have the last word," said Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of theVatican's doctrinal department.

Ratzinger, speaking at thepresentation of a 43-page document called "The Vision of Fatima", saidthat by focusing the interpretation of the secret on the past, humanity couldlearn from it and be hopeful for the future.


Over the years, the Vatican'srefusal to make the secret public has inspired books, doomsday cults convincedit predicted the end of the world, and even a hijacking.

The outlines of the secret werefirst disclosed on May 13 during the Pope's visit to Fatima.

The text was written in 1944 byLucia dos Santos, now a 93-year-old nun who is the only survivor of the threechildren, but a succession of popes decided not to reveal it.

Asked if he believed there was nowno great danger for the future, Ratzinger said:

"I think so. This (20thcentury) world of destruction, of violence, of wars finally culminating in the(papal) assassination attempt is the concrete and positive content of thisvision and does not point to the course of future history."

He added: "At the end of acentury and a millennium...we were able to propose this text to humanity and tothe Church in a positive spirit. It indicates that we should use the power oflove against the power of violence," he said.

Ratzinger also dismissedsuggestions it could have been a prediction of a nuclear conflict.

"It intends to show on theone hand suffering, danger, threats...but also the possible response. The accentis on the response...threats and cruelty are pointed to in order to wake uphumanity's conscience and be a call to the power of love and faith," hesaid.

In her recollection of the thirdpart of the 1917 vision -- the first two parts already have been made public --Sister Lucia says she and the other two children, Francisco and Jacinta, saw"an angel with a flaming sword".

They then saw "a bishopdressed in white (and) we had the impression that it was the Holy Father".

As the vision continued, thechildren saw the Pope "passing through a big city half in ruins and halftrembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow (and) he prayed forthe souls of corpses he met on his way..."

When the Pope reached the top of amountain and was praying at the foot of a cross "he was killed by a groupof soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him" as he and bishops, priestsand nuns and other people "died one after the other".

Angels then "gathered up theblood of the martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls who were making their wayto God."

Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agcashot and nearly killed the Pope in St Peter's Square in 1981, a time when eventsin the Pope's Polish homeland were starting a domino effect which would lead tothe collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.

While the Pope was shot by a lonegunman, the Vatican said the vision was symbolic, had to be interpreted withhindsight and that Sister Lucia agreed with the interpretation.

The Pope believes the Madonnasaved him from death by Agca's bullets, which were fired on the anniversary ofone of the visions reportedly seen by the three shepherd children.

The first two parts of the secretconcerned a vision of hell, the prediction of the outbreak of World War Two anda warning that Russia would "spread her errors" in the world.

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